Introduction to Linseed Oil Products
Updated: Apr 30
New to the traditional materials or looking to share with a friend or colleague? This article is designed to offer a brief overview of all the materials available at Earth and Flax.
Many of us have heard about linseed oil and linseed oil products. We may have seen metal cans of the stuff at the hardware store or perhaps used linseed oil on a project or two. What we are talking about here is very different from conventional linseed oil and the modern paints and coatings that are so common in the average US hardware store. We are focusing on Scandinavian-inspired, historic linseed oil products and other traditional materials that are making a major comeback.
Why you may ask?
Because it is possible to make a natural, solvent-free product that holds up better and lasts longer than any modern, petrochemical based equivalent. It is much safer to work with, live with, and manufacture.
This is not new technology but rather based on knowledge that is documented in historic painters/craftsmen manuals from many countries and cultures around the world. Up until the 1950s, Linseed Oil Paint had been the dominant paint used throughout Europe. By the 1980s it had almost completely disappeared from the market. Around this time, the rate of paint failure and wood rot on even fairly new facades had greatly increased, raising concerns about the compatibility of modern plastic paints and coatings. Linseed oil paint does not cause such issues, this paired with health concerns about alkyd and solvent based products, sparked a renewed interest in the traditional materials.
With the reemergence and growth of Linseed Oil Paint manufacturing in Sweden, there are now more effective, longer-lasting, solvent-free alternatives available and an emerging market here in the USA as well.
How does it work?
Instead of encasing wood with a water-based acrylic/latex or petrochemical-based paint, essentially a plastic bag that traps moisture and causes rot, naturally derived products like Linseed Oil Paint or Authentic Pine Tar nourish wood, allowing moisture to move based on seasonal changes, and create an easy to maintain surface that will protect and preserve the substrate.
Conditions for rot:
It is impossible to truly understand the relationship between these materials without starting with linseed oil and the importance of a high-quality purified/degummed linseed oil.
What is Purified Linseed Oil?
Linseed oil is made from flax oil, the same flax oil found at most health food stores. To make an exceptional linseed oil product like purified oil, paint, wax, etc. for use on wood, metal, and other surfaces, the oil should be purified or degummed i.e. processed in a way to remove the protein or food-value and antioxidants from the oil. This ensures that the oil will no longer go rancid. There are a few ways to do this. For example, the Viking Purified Raw Linseed Oil has had the protein removed, has been processed naturally with no additives, and heated/sterilized to create a beautiful pale, drying linseed oil that can be used for a wide variety of applications. Once the oil is processed, it can then become the base for many other products, such as paint, stain, wax, etc.
The more an oil is heated the larger the molecular structure becomes. Purified Raw Linseed Oil will have the smallest molecular structure and the best penetration into a porous wood surface. A Purified Boiled Linseed Oil has a larger molecular structure and consequently a faster dry time. This is what is used to manufacture Linseed Oil Paint as it allows for the built-up of an effective paint film as you apply several coats of paint. The heating process can eventually create a stand oil and a Linseed Oil Varnish.
As you can see from the molecular graph below, linseed oil can penetrate into the substrate of the wood, creating excellent protection from moisture that can cause rot and deterioration. It also does not trap moisture behind a barrier like a plastic paint/stain does, allowing moisture to move with seasonal changes and ambient temperature.
Viking Purified Raw Linseed Oil is a drying oil that can be used for many applications. For example, as a “primer” coat before painting with Linseed Oil Paint or to create a custom Linseed Oil Stain, as well as mixed with Authentic Pine Tar. The wide range of applications include: shingles, siding, decks, floors, fences, windows, furniture, wooden boats, etc. Developed to protect, preserve, and nourish wood surfaces, it is also a natural rust inhibitor and excellent on metal.
Ottosson Boiled Linseed Oil has similar applications as the Viking Raw but offers a slightly faster dry time. It can be used to thin the Ottosson Linseed Oil Paint or to create the recommended 30% paint to 70% Purified Linseed Oil "primer" when painting interior bare wood surfaces.
Reach out to a supplier or send an email to email@example.com to ensure you are using the best Purified Linseed Oil for your project. Some linseed oil options take a very, very long time to try and are not appropriate for most projects - no such options are available at Earth+Flax at this time.
Avoid conventional linseed oil available at an average hardware store. These products can have issues drying, include solvents or other additives, can attract bugs/mildew, and can go rancid over time.
Now let's dig deeper into each product...
Linseed Oil Paint and Linseed Oil Stain
There are quite a few Linseed Oil Paint manufacturers in Sweden today as the market and the interest grows. At Earth and Flax, we have worked primarily with three manufacturers: Ottosson, Viking by Wibo, and Allback. All offer solvent-free paint options that use Purified Linseed Oil as a binder with the natural pigments.
The biggest differentiating factor between these brands is that Ottosson and Viking manufacture all their paint colors with zinc, a natural fungicide that creates a slightly harder painted finish. The Allback offers a zinc additive as an option.
Based on ease of use, we have focused on the Ottosson and Viking brands.
Linseed Oil Paint creates a breathable coating that adheres to almost any clean, dry surface. It is especially excellent for bare wood surfaces as it soaks into the substrate vs. sitting on the surface like a plastic bag. It does not peel or bubble like many modern coatings. Maintenance is simple: clean or wipe down surfaces and reapply a thin, even coat of paint or a thin, even coat of Purified Linseed Oil to maintain the excellent moisture protection and adhesion of the pigment.
A Linseed Oil Stain can be created by mixing any Linseed Oil Paint color with the Purified Linseed Oil.
Ottosson and Allback are designed for interior and exterior applications. The Viking brand is specifically formulated for exterior surfaces only. Can be used on wood, metal, masonry, etc.
Use a Linseed Oil Paint with zinc in most regions of North America.
Apply relatively thin, even coats with a stiff bristle brush in 60+ degree temperatures.
Dry time is slower than a conventional acrylic/latex paint but this is also why it lasts so much longer, creating a more flexible paint film. A small amount of patience will provide exponential results in the long run.
Linseed Oil Soap
Linseed Oil Soap is one of the best and most underrated benefits of working with traditional linseed oil-based coatings. No solvents or harsh chemicals are required for clean-up when painting with Linseed Oil Paint.
It is an excellent, petrochemical-free liquid soap to clean both interior and exterior surfaces. While an effective general-purpose cleaner for cleaning old, dirty wood siding before painting or to gently wash painted surfaces before applying a maintenance coat of Purified Linseed Oil, it is also designed to clean hands and brushes when working with Linseed Oil Paint.
Use full-strength when prepping old, dirty wood or removing an old stain/coating from a surface. Dilute with water as needed when gently cleaning surfaces previously painted with any of the traditional coatings before proceeding with maintenance - rinse well and let dry completely.
Linseed Oil Wax
Linseed Oil Wax is a combination of Purified Linseed Oil and beeswax. It creates a durable, moisture-beading finish for interior applications. Pigmented Linseed Oil Wax has the addition of color, creating a 2-in-1 process. The wax is primarily formulated for bare wood surface protection but can also be used on metal and plastic. Easy application and basic maintenance.
The natural Viking Purified Linseed Oil Wax is food-safe and ideal for cutting boards, carved spoons, furniture, flooring, woodwork, etc. The Viking Pigmented Linseed Oil Wax is appropriate for similar applications besides cutting boards and carved spoons, etc.
While non-toxic, we do not recommend anything with pigment for food-safe applications.
No need to put too much on - a little goes a long way. Apply with a cloth, rub into the surface, let sit for 15-20 minutes, and wipe away any excess before end of day.
Linseed Oil Putty
DANA makes an exceptional, easy to use Linseed Oil Putty for window restoration projects. It is very similar in consistency to modern putty or glazing compounds and great for larger scale projects where time is of the essence.
Apply Linseed Oil Paint to Linseed Oil Putty immediately! Skip waiting for putty to dry. Important to paint 1/16-1/8 onto the glass when working with this product combination for long-lasting results.
Can also be used as a wood filler for small cracks and holes but should be painted immediately with Linseed Oil Paint.
Linseed Oil Varnish
Le Tonkinois manufactures exceptional Linseed Oil Varnish. Easy to use and ready right out of the can. Prep bare wood surfaces with Viking Purified Raw Linseed Oil or apply Le Tonkinois Bio Impression as a "primer" coat before varnishing. Once varnish is applied, watch as it wears away over the years instead of cracking and peeling like a polyurethane or many modern varnish products. Simply clean with Linseed Oil Soap, rinse/wipe down, and let dry completely before reapplying a few coats of Linseed Oil Varnish to maintain the surface build-up in the years to come.
Le Tonkinois No. 1 and Classic Linseed Oil Varnish are appropriate for interior and exterior: floors, cabinetry, furniture, marine applications, etc.
The Le Tonkinois Parquet Linseed Oil Varnish is designed only for interior flooring.
Avoid silicone products as this negatively impacts proper adhesion.
Authentic Pine Tar
A spectacular wood preservative with antiseptic properties, Pine Tar is also a natural insect deterrent . It must be thinned for application and when mixed with the Viking Purified Raw Linseed Oil, no solvents are required. Together these two products work to protect and nourish exterior wood surfaces with impressive moisture and UV protection.
Comes in Light and Dark, as well as pigmented: Black, Black-Brown, Brown, and Red.
The Pine Tar Vitriol is a treatment to create a gray, silvered/weathered finish on bare wood surfaces. It is ready to use right out of the can with no additions. It is one of the few products at Earth and Flax that is not solvent-free. It does not offer as much surface protection as the other Pine Tar options but an incredible product to achieve that classic New England Gray design aesthetic.
Ideal for barns and outbuildings, timber-frame structures, log cabins, decks, raised garden beds, outdoor furniture, etc. Appropriate for exterior bare wood surfaces only.
Apply warm (not hot) for even faster absorption into the wood, especially when working in cooler temperatures. Keep cans at least room temperature or warmer before application.
Important to Note:
It is not recommended to mix systems. If you decide to go with linseed oil products, embrace that sphere of products and do not mix with acrylic/latex or other petrochemical-based products. Use like-with-like and you will get the best results.
Wood quality and species, as well as application technique, environmental factors, product interaction, etc. can all impact appearance and life-span of the natural finishes. It is always helpful to do a small test to not only confirm color and application preference, but also to simply become familiar with the traditional coatings before jumping into a larger project.